We’re creeping up on the three year anniversary of Stuff and/or Junk and I spent some mental currency on trying to come up with a way to celebrate the fact that Holy cow I haven’t let it die yet?? without an obligatory blog equivalent of a sitcom clips show.
Fortunately for me, 2012 was a good year for debut authors in the SF scene. At least it was pretty rad for debut authors on my shelf. I started the blog on Feb 12, 2012 after lurking on twitter for a few weeks. It coincided pretty closely with my first writing related convention and the debut book from author Myke Cole. With the upcoming release of his fourth book, Gemini Cell, on January 27th, I thought it would be a perfect excuse to check in.
Cole’s first book, Shadow Ops: Control Point was a serious breath of fresh air for me as a reader. I describe Cole’s universe as a military urban fantasy or how the actual military would deal with sorcerers being dropped into their ranks. And it’s a description I use a lot because they are one of the most recommended books on my shelf. There’s an entire unit of the Rhode Island Air National Guard readers that I helped along.
Gemini Cell takes place in the same universe as the original Shadow Ops trilogy but earlier in the timeline with a different cast of characters. This time around magic isn’t established in the world, the book is “set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, when magic first returns to the world and order begins to unravel.” I’ve preordered mine (and lots of links down at the bottom if you are so inclined to do the same).
So in the spirit of the upcoming three year mark, I’d like to bust out some shop talk since that’s the sort of thing I like to do and Cole, being one of the friendliest authors out on the scene, has been kind enough to indulge me. Of course, I’ll be out of any useful shop talk questions when we cross paths at Boskone 52, but that’s a problem for later. Maybe we’ll just talk about beer at that point and hopefully not blizzards that are outside the convention hotel waiting for me to drive through like last year… or the year before (Boskone has a thing with blizzards).
One of the themes in your reviews over the years, which I’ve completely agreed with, is that your writing levels up with each book. I loved Control Point but Breach Zone blows it out of the water. Do you find that there is a leveling up of your back end writing process as well? What’s changed about your writing process between Control Point and Gemini Cell?
Thanks for noticing this. I can’t say whether or not I’m a “good” writer, and I can’t say that I’m “getting better” with each book, but I can objectively and definitively say that each novel is very different from all the others. This is by design, and I’m enormously proud of it. There’s a lot of pressure for direct to Mass-Market Paperback authors like myself to write in-series novels that feature the same protagonist and are all very similar. I’m not knocking that style. There are some GREAT writers out there doing great things in this mode. Look at Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs. One of my favorite writers, Bernard Cornwell, writes this way (his Richard Sharp and Thomas of Hookton novels).
But that’s not what I want to do. I push really, REALLY hard to progress as a writer. If my career fails, I don’t want it to be because I didn’t challenge myself. Control Point is sort of a bildungsroman and a fugitive story. Fortress Frontier is a fantasy quest piece. Breach Zone is a siege tale and a tragic romance. All three books have different protagonists by design. Breach Zone stops using chapter group sections, and is a double-helix narrative (a story in the past and a story in the present intertwining and climaxing together) that I stole from Mark Lawrence.
Gemini Cell is a *very* different novel from the Shadow Ops trilogy. It’s got much stronger elements of romance and totally different characters. The magic system is completely different. Scylla got some POV time in Breach Zone, but Sarah Schweitzer is a major POV character who can almost be counted as the book’s protagonist.
At the same time, I wrote The Fractured Girl (the 5th draft is currently with my agent, and I’m hopeful we’ll go out to market soon), which is a medieval “grimdark” fantasy in the mode of Lawrence and Abercrombie, whose protagonist is a 13 year old gay girl.
My point is this: I strive to get better, but I know that’s totally subjective. What isn’t subjective is this: I do something *different* with each book. To the extent that improves my writing, I’m delighted.
Your writing mixes genres. Even before we crossed paths at my first Boskone the idea of a modern military fantasy book came off as new and fresh. After spending twenty years reading in the genre, new and fresh is an amazing thing. And then Bookbinder came along and the support staff became the protags. And I absolutely maintain that Breach Zone is really a romance book in disguise. Now I’ve seen tidbits on twitter that the horror book scene is keying in on Gemini Cell. What kind of challenges are there with mixing genres and bringing other people’s tropes into our SFF scene?
All major successes in the arts are outliers. Take a look at A Song of Ice and Fire. We all talk about Ned Stark’s beheading as if it’s just part of the fantasy literature. But the truth was that, in capriciously killing a major and well-loved character, Martin took us into new territory. Look at the major comics that broke out when the Comics Code was bucked off in the 80’s – Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Moore’s Swamp Thing. These books went into completely uncharted territory and they reaped major rewards.
All of these examples were not creating anything new out of whole cloth. They were riffing in creative ways on extant tropes. Martin was writing a medieval fantasy. Miller was working with Batman, one of the oldest and most loved characters in the history of comics. But they consciously pushed out into new territory. They took risks, and audiences responded.
I like to think that I’m doing that here. I grew up with zombie fiction. I started with the Romero flicks like everyone else, but I got in on the ground floor with the zombie renaissance as an early reader of Kirkman’s Walking Dead in ’03, long before the TV show made it a household word. I’m certainly not the first person to ask more complex questions about the zombie phenomena (what if zombies can still think? How do they integrate with humanity?). Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series deals with this, and Carey’s Girl With All the Gifts is getting a lot of press lately. In making Gemini Cell‘s character undead, I wanted to explore the military applications of zombies, and I also wanted to avoid the trope that zombie infection is always via virus.
When Dread Central, a major hub site for horror, picked up the story, I was tickled. I hope it means I’m on the right track.
One of the other upcoming projects you’ve talked about is the Fractured Girl (like a few paragraphs above), which I’ve seen you describe as a Mark Lawrence-esqe grimdark starring a teenaged girl protag long before you described it above. That’s a big swing from the cadre of military officers that make up your other protags. I can’t even listen to the same genre of music when I switch gears so drastically. Do you need to cultivate a different headspace for writing from such a different point of view? Do you have to change up the mechanics of your process any?
I’m not sure, but only because it’s so new to me. I’ve had a hard time writing Javelin Rain, which is the sequel to Gemini Cell (I just finished a 1st draft of Javelin Rain on December 31st). Keep in mind, I also had a hard time writing Breach Zone, which is widely regarded as my best published work (judging from the critical reception). So, this could mean that it’s simply how it goes for me lately: I have a hard time writing the book, but it turns out to be solid, or I could be having a tough time switching gears between The Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain.
I will say this: I was much more excited to write The Fractured Girl than I was to write Javelin Rain. I think some of this is the “oooooh, shiny!” tendency to be drawn to something new and different. Gemini Cell is my fourth military novel. If you don’t count unsold work, that means roughly 500,000 words (or 2,000 pages) in the same arena. It’s nice to branch out and stretch your legs. It’s also really important to me that I be a writer with a capital “W.” I want to show that what success I’ve enjoyed isn’t gimmickry, that it’s about more than my “authentic” military voice.
This one is kind of cheesy but it’s a topic that fascinates me, but what kind of soundtrack would you drop for Gemini Cell? Sometimes I see books with an author’s playlist in the back. What’s the playlist for Gemini Cell?
This is a tough one for me, since I almost always write to movie soundtracks. So, there literally is a soundtrack playing as I create my world. It would definitely be a composite soundtrack that included orchestral scores interspersed with pop artists. For example: Snow White and The Huntsman‘s soundtrack, which I write to a lot, includes Florence and The Machine. Narnia‘s soundtrack includes Switchfoot and Alanis Morrisette. I am loving the Skyrim soundtrack as well. Video game soundtracks loom large in my repertoire.
One more slightly cheesy one, but as a film school grad, I can’t resist. If the mythical Hollywood movie deal dropped into your lap and you had a say in the casting call, who would you tap to be the stars across Gemini Cell or any of the other books you’ve written? I have to say, I’d be partial to Idris Elba or a younger Djimon Hounsou as Oscar Briton.
Funny you should mention this. I actually was asked this very question and gave a detailed breakdown here. (Interviewer’s note: I tried really hard not to write repeat questions but my google-fu failed me that day)
Gemini Cell would be really tough to cast for. The lead, James Schweitzer, has his face blown off and poorly reconstructed. He’s so hard to look at that they put a modified flight helmet on him (as shown on the cover) to keep him from scaring the shit out of living troops.
You’ve talked about how D&D was part of your nerd foundation, specifically the paladin archetype. (Chaotic neutral sorcerer here, Green Rodrick ftw!) I know we’ve all been tempted to take the stat sheet and keep writing. Jim Hines actually did in a round about way. China Meiville’s Perdido Street Station and The Scar read like they could be D&D source books, he even makes references to the classic adventuring party in the former. Have you ever had any characters make the jump from dice to the page? Do you find any useful synergy between tabletop RPGs and writing?
I find TONS of useful synergy between RPGs and writing, but not in the way you think. Playing D&D taught me to imagine myself as someone else, to form an external model/vision of the person I wanted to be (in this case, a paladin). I wasn’t parented well, and so that vision became the role-model I never had. It allowed me to reinvent myself as a military officer and eventually as a writer. The task of going pro as a writer is so impossible that it would make almost anyone give up. A paladin doesn’t worry about that. He hefts his shield and advances into hell. Without RPGs, I would *never* have become a novelist.
This next one approaches a “standard” question, which I’ve been doing my best to avoid, but according to my google-fu, you’ve yet to answer this one since the Breach Zone release window so it’s new for 2015! I know you’ve got the previously mentioned Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain, the sequel to Gemini Cell, in the works, what else are you juggling with that epic work ethic you’ve got?
Funny you should mention. My novelette, Weapons In The Earth, will be published in John Joseph Adams’ Operation: Arcana military fantasy anthology in March. It’s a POW story set in the Shadow Ops universe and told from the goblin POV. I’ve also been invited to do short work for the Urban Allies anthology and Shawn Speakman’s Unfettered anthology.
While I wait for beta-reads to come back on Javelin Rain and for my agent to comment on The Fractured Girl, I’ve dusted off an old science-fiction police novel proposal that is highly influenced by Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha. (Interviewer’s note: !!!) It deals with cops who merge with a race of nanoscale xenocarids who colonize their bodies for law enforcement applications. It would leverage a lot of my work in law enforcement with a lot of my work in . . . dreaming up crazy shit. It’s also very, very bleak (like The Fractured Girl). I know a lot of people are already predicting “grimdark’s” demise, but that tone is still what resonates most with me in fiction.
We’ll see what comes of it. Fingers crossed.
As a security contractor, government civilian and military officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Counterterrorism to Cyber Warfare to Federal Law Enforcement. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. All that conflict can wear a guy out. Thank goodness for fantasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dungeons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.
Myke Cole’s fourth novel, Gemini Cell drops on January 27th. Connect with Cole on his website mykecole.com or on twitter @mykecole. Preorder the book at your bookseller of choice – Barnes and Noble – Amazon - IndieBound – Powell’s – Books-a-million – Pandemonium Books & Games, Cambridge Mass – Books on the Square, Providence RI